The Future of US Cooperation with Pakistan


This piece by General Joseph Voetl (retd) and Lieutenant General Michael K. Nagata (retd) was first published by our friends. Middle East Institute.

Lieutenant General (retd) Michael K. Nagata is a Distinguished Senior Fellow on National Security at MEI. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2019 after 38 years of active duty, and spent 34 years in U.S. Special Operations. His last position was director of strategy for the National Counterterrorism Center from 2016 to 2019.

General (retd) Joseph L. Voetl is a Distinguished Senior Fellow on National Security at MEI. He retired as a Four Star General in the U.S. Army after a nearly 40-year career, during which time he held various leadership positions, most recently as Commander of CENTCOM from March 2016 to March 2019. Included.

Opinion – The United States and Pakistan have had a complicated and often frustrating “love and hate” relationship since 1947 – which was severely tested during the 20-year US-led intervention in Afghanistan. We are convinced that now is the time to seriously consider whether the two nations can achieve a more mutually beneficial and lasting relationship after the intervention of the US and Pakistani governments and their populations.

As we consider a new policy, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is almost complete after two decades of international coalition leadership. Early indications are that there is a growing potential for significant instability and potentially serious disintegration in Afghanistan, with unintended consequences for the Afghan people and all of Afghanistan’s neighbors. It is already clear that international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province will continue to enjoy and potentially increase their safe havens.

Whatever the US strategic concerns about the future of Afghanistan, the path and direction of Pakistan’s strategic choice in the years to come will be important to the US. There are various reasons for this.

First, Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state. Decades of investment in nuclear weapons by Pakistan and India, due to unbridled and mutual historical, religious, cultural and political enmity between them, make it one of the most dangerous flashpoints in the world.

Second, all Pakistan’s borders are beneficial to the United States. Pakistan also has important religious, cultural and economic ties with other Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In the age of “great power competition”, although Pakistan is not one of the major players, its network of relations can now be a strategic advantage for any of the major powers involved, including the United States and China.

Third, despite its significant political and economic difficulties, the technology sector in Pakistan is growing. Its young population and the presence of Pakistani doctors, scientists, academics and other professionals around the world have become an increasingly important part of the international community.

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As South Asia’s longtime veterans, we both see the sources of “fatigue and ingenuity” as American policymakers, both Democrats and Republicans in the administration, often involved in Pakistan’s strategic discourse. We have both seen the US government’s reluctance to engage in any kind of strategic engagement or interaction with Pakistan because of past frustrations or perceived fraud. Understanding the enormous complexities of Pakistan’s relations, influence and strategic choices in the South Asian environment can be intellectually difficult and difficult.

Nevertheless, we have both come to the conclusion that the only thing that is more difficult than establishing an active and mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan is to live without one. Given the volatile borders, the nuclear standoff with India, the continued presence of terrorist organizations and the high potential of all of them to further our interests, there is no better alternative.

Some of the areas we consider worth exploring with Pakistanis are:

First, the possibility of collaborating with other like-minded international actors (both state and non-state) to plan for the consequences of significant political instability and human suffering emerging from Afghanistan, including considerable refuge in Pakistan. Possibility of flight of refugees. In fact, Pakistanis have long and sad memories of an increase in the number of Afghan refugees since the fall of the Kabul government in the 1990s, and they are concerned about the possible consequences of a permanent US withdrawal as it nears completion. Expressed deep concern about the recurrence.

Second, the possibility of counter-terrorism cooperation against any terrorist threat emerging from Afghanistan prevents it from sowing the seeds of further instability throughout the region. We do not see the possibility of Pakistan allowing US intelligence or counter-terrorism elements to be deployed within its borders. Still, there may be other ways to promote better cooperation (such as working groups, forums or exchanges) if there is a threat from Afghanistan that is of concern to our mutual interests.

Third, the possibility of Pakistan and India joining the list of co-operation, any partial reduction in tensions on their common border and, at the same time, a slight reduction in the threat of nuclear weapons. It may be recalled that before 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated talks to reduce tensions, including the highly emotional Kashmir issue. However, negotiations broke down without a major agreement. While we acknowledge that this is an extraordinarily complex and complex issue for the United States to accept all of its other strategic challenges, the fear of a possible nuclear confrontation in South Asia should at least make us ask ourselves this question. Provokes, “At least why not? Try?” In fact, anti-American elements such as China would probably ignore such efforts, and we believe that the reason for doing so may be rather than a reversal.

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We have long heard US policy and operational practitioners quote the phrase, “Never underestimate the potential of Pakistanis to disappoint us.” But, unfortunately, most American policy makers do not understand how many times we have heard Pakistanis say the same thing about Americans. Thus, both sides have long-standing “neurological disorders” about each other. As we end our Afghan campaign, it’s time to move on from our nervous problems and carefully consider the strategic costs of trying to partner with Pakistan. More or less than the price. We believe that in the long run, it is likely to be less expensive.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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